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“I Am the Vine, You Are the Branches”
John 15:1-8


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fifth Sunday of Easter—May 6, 2012

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

This is Volume 54 from the American Edition of Luther’s Works, a particularly famous book called Luther’s “Table Talk.”  For years friends of Martin Luther sat around his table with him at suppertime in intimate conversation with him and writing down what the famous Reformer said.

Today’s Gospel Reading is part of Jesus’ “Table Talk.”  If you have a Bible with the words of Christ in red, you will notice that in the Gospel of John all of chapters 14, 15, 16 and 17 are in red.  These chapters record Jesus and his friends the disciples gathered around the table in the Upper Room in intimate conversation at the Last Supper.  One of those disciples who was there for the Last Supper in the Upper Room was the Apostle John, whom tradition says was the youngest of the Apostles, just a teenager, and a cousin of Jesus.  Just as Luther’s friends wrote down what the famous Reformer had to say, in his Gospel John records for us the famous Rabbi Jesus’ “Table Talk.”

“I am the Vine; you are the branches.”  This statement from Jesus represented a change in his relationship with his disciples.  If you are married you may remember the moment it became clear for the first time that your future husband or wife was interested in being more than just friends.  In that moment there was a life-altering change in your relationship.  In the same way, when Jesus declares to his disciples, “I am the Vine; you are the branches,” it shatters their conceptions and misconceptions about him as he makes it clear that he is much more than they think.

For three years they have looked upon Jesus as an exceptional human being; now he makes it clear that he is much more than a human being.  They have looked upon Jesus as a great teacher; now he makes it clear he is much more than a great teacher.  They have mistakenly looked upon Jesus as a political figure; now he makes it clear he is much more than a political figure.

“I am the Vine; you are the branches.”  Still today, many look upon Jesus as just an exceptional human being.  But, he had to be more than a mere human, because he came into the world to solve a problem beyond the power any human, the problem of sin.  As we confess in our liturgy, “We are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed. . .  We justly deserve your present and eternal punishment. . .  we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition”

The problem of sin was beyond the power to solve of even the most exceptional human.  But, in his “Table Talk” with the disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus explains that he is much more than just an exceptional human being.  “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.”  The Apostle Paul puts it this way in 2nd Corinthians and Colossians: “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not counting men’s sins against them. . .  For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things . . . by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”  

Jesus is much more than just an exceptional human being.  He is the Son of God, your Savior.  Your sins are not counted against you because through his blood shed on the cross you are forgiven and reconciled with God.

“I am the Vine; you are the branches.” Still today, many look upon Jesus as just a great teacher.  Even non-Christian religions such as Islam, Mormonism, and Buddhism are willing to admit that.  But, also many Christian churches have taken to emphasizing what are considered to be the “practical” teachings of the Bible, and deemphasizing to the point of forgetting the Bible’s spiritual teachings about sin and salvation.  One such church in our area advertises the topic of their service each week and so far this year they have had sermons on a wide range of topics including genetic engineering, stress reduction, decluttering, crop circles, UFO’s, and internet addiction.  But, this self-proclaimed Christian church has not had one single sermon about Jesus Christ, his life, death, and resurrection, not even on Christmas and Easter. 

One “Church Growth” expert advises pastors, “The how-to section of a bookstore provides a great resource for relevant sermon ideas. The psychological and self-help sections prove especially helpful.”  But, that diminishes Jesus into an ancient Galilean version of Oprah or Dr. Phil.  In his “Table Talk” with the disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus explains that he is much more than just a great teacher. 

“I am the Vine; you are the branches.”  Still today, many mistakenly look upon Jesus as a political figure.  A letter to the editor in our local newspaper recently criticized churches as being only a big “political action committee.”  While that is harsh, it is true that some churches and ministers have become heavily involved in secular politics.  Christians should be active as individual citizens, but the Holy Christian Church was founded by Christ to be a spiritual organization, not a political organization.  As Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

The popular notion among Jesus’ contemporaries was that the Messiah when he came would be mostly a political figure, who would overthrow the Romans occupying their land and establish and earthly kingdom.  Jesus’ own disciples bought into this distorted idea, as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus said, “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to restore Israel.”

Jesus own disciples thought that his #1 mission was political, but in his “Table Talk” with the disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus explains that he is much more than a political figure. 

“I am the Vine; you are the branches.”  The British theologian J.B. Phillips wrote a famous book titled, “Your God Is Too Small.”  That’s what was wrong with the disciples’ conception and misconceptions of Jesus as they gathered around the table at the Last Supper that night.  Their conception of Jesus, as an exceptional human being, a great teacher, their misconception of him as a political figure, were all too small.

“I am the Vine; you are the branches.”  This statement from Jesus represented a change in his relationship with his disciples.  They must look beyond their petty conceptions and misconceptions about him.  He is making an extraordinary claim about himself.  He nothing less than their very source of life—life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.  “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

“I am the Vine; you are the branches.”  Like Jesus’ first disciples we must look beyond our petty conceptions and misconceptions about him.  To make him only an exceptional human being, or a great teacher, or a political figure, is too small.  He is nothing less than your very source of life—life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come. 

“You did not choose me,” he says, “but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. . .  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. . . Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

A few years ago I told a true story from earlier in my ministry.  Our new sanctuary has a special sink in the sacristy to dispose of leftover Communion wine and Baptismal water, draining directly into the ground.  If you don’t have such a special sink in your church it is an old custom to dispose of the leftover Communion wine, and the water used for washing the Communion vessels, and leftover Baptismal water, by pouring it outside on the ground.  At one church I served there was a shrub by the back door that, even in the midst of a severe drought we were experiencing during those years, was always green and flourishing.  I finally asked an elder, “Why is that one shrub green and growing while all the others are brown and dying?”  He replied, “Pastor, don’t you know?  That’s where we pour out the water and the wine.”  Be like that shrub, with the water and the wine poured out on you regularly, and you will thrive.

Remember daily who you are through water of Baptism poured out upon you, the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, through which you are born again as a child of God.  At the Lord’s Table receive from him his body and blood in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, spiritual nutrients from the Vine to strengthen you in the true faith unto life everlasting.  And as today’s Introit, Psalm 1, says, “Blessed is the man [whose] . . .  delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water.” Be like that shrub, with the water, the wine, and the Word poured out on you regularly, and you will thrive. 

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Amen.

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